Imagine yourself playing in a professional football match in which your team is currently leading the scoreline by three to one. You dribble the ball all the way via the left wing to the final third of the pitch, only to be greeted by a frustrated defender whom already had a terrible evening. With nothing to lose, you nonchalantly perform a rainbow flick to try and past him. You can already picture yourself on television screens across the globe, scoring that perfect goal after a brilliant build-up.
Everything seems to be going your way…except the television part.
Within seconds, you find yourself lying on the ground after being forcefully fouled by that defender, while his enraged teammates surround you angrily in an attempt to get you reprimanded for your ‘unsportsmanlike’ conduct.
Was it really?
This scenario depicts a similar situation that Brazilian football star Neymar faced a while ago, while playing for Spanish club Barcelona against Athletic Bilbao in the 2015 Copa del Rey Final:
In a more recent case when Brazil took on Bolivia in the South American World Cup Qualifier a week ago, the Brazilian’s skillful antics was seen as “being a bit too cocky” by Bolivia defender Yasmani Duk. The 28-year-old had also aggressively elbowed the Barcelona man in which he refused to apologize for, claiming that he was just trying to “cut off a move”.
To native Brazilians, skill moves play a massive part in their football culture, and what Neymar did was seen as a norm in their community. Some fans see it as an art, an alternative way for footballers to express themselves. Others, however, find it unnecessary to perform such flamboyant act which can be viewed as trying to embarrass the opponent.
This debate leads to an essential question: Is it considered an art or a taboo to perform high level skill moves during a football match?
Lets start off by viewing it from a different perspective.
It is important to note that most professional football players do in fact perform various skill moves from time to time, with a majority of them successfully executing it during matches. Neymar’s teammate, Luis Suarez ‘nutmegged’ David Luiz twice in the UEFA Champions League semifinal 1st leg clash against Paris Saint-Germain. After the match, Suarez mentioned that he “had to nutmeg Luiz twice because there was nothing else I (he) could do.”
Despite what Suarez had said, note that the PSG players could have reacted the same way as the Bilbao players, but no one reacted to it. Even Lionel Messi, who is widely considered as one of the best players in the world have been tormenting defenders and pulling off ridiculous skills even at times when his team is already in a comfortable winning position never did receive much hate for his antics.
This could possibly mean that the timing of execution, and the type of skill move used, might be decisive factors in considering whether the player is being expressive or just showboating.
UNMC Football Club President, Abdul Hakim Annuar mentioned that basic skill moves are necessary in the game as part of a move to overcome an opponent, as long as the player does not deviate from his/her original goal of winning the game:
During most matches, basic skills such as ‘stepovers’ and ‘nutmegs’ are rather necessary to overcome an opponent. However, showboating skills such as the ‘rainbow flick’ are unethical as they are unnecessary & pointless. It seems as though the given player’s objective has deviated from winning the match to humiliating the opposition which could be seen as unsportsmanlike.
While most people accuse Neymar of showboating too much or being ‘cocky’ during a game, one might argue that he has every right to do so and that his skillful nature is just his style of expressing himself in the football field. Barcelona coach, Luis Enrique whom initially criticized Neymar for showboating, has later admitted that the latter’s style of play is not “offensive” as it isn’t against the rules to do so. He mentioned that:
I’m going to give [Neymar] advice that he should continue enjoying football. He’s not doing anything offensive, it’s his way of playing and people can no longer use being chipped or getting nutmegged by Ney as an excuse. There’s no disrespect. If there’s an opponent who doesn’t understand that then there’s a referee who can send him off.
To put it simply, it all comes down to individual perception. However, every player has 90 minutes on the football field to express themselves and no one should be denied the chance to do so. In the case of Barcelona vs Bilbao: Neymar expressed himself with skills, Bilbao players expressed themselves with brawn.
One thing for sure, a heart and soul performance is better appreciated than a show of tricks and skills in a football game.
By Andrew Chia